Sunday, December 29, 2019

DANG 2019 - The King's Ships Were at Sea

The 2019 version of DANG (Dave’s Annual Naval Game) was The King’s Ships Were at Sea – World War I in the North Sea (the game title is based on James Goldrick's book title). The mini-campaign covered naval operations in the North Sea from November 1914 through January 1915. Historically this timeframe included several German raids on the British coast and up through the Battle of Dogger Bank.
German Torpedo Boats at Jutland - by Claus Bergan
The players began arriving at my place around 9:30 AM and we spent the next hour catching up on things and talking about the projects we are all working on and planning.
The game area set up with my new naval gaming mats
After that we split up into two sides with Scott, George, Mark, and Charlie taking the Germans while Arthur, Dale, Dave C, Kevin, Bill, and David S as the British. I then went of the general situation and talked through the operational rules. The operational rules were my own homebrew. Each operational game turn represented two weeks and, as with most of DANG games, each side had missions they could assign to their forces and would earn victory points for completing the missions and sinking enemy ships. For the tactical (battle) rules, I went with the Battleship Captain rules from Minden Games.

The game would start in the second half of November 1914. Historically, things appeared to be going well for the Germans; von Spee’s squadron had won the Battle of Cornell and they had recently completed a bombardment and minelaying operation near Yarmouth.

The German’s primary goal was to draw the British capital ships into advantages battles and sink or damage them to reduce the odds against their fleet, with a secondary mission of attacking Britain’s east coast with bombardment attacks and minelaying operations. The British were trying to maintain the long-distance blockade and defend against the German raids, but they also would have opportunities for offensive action.
The North Sea operational map for the campaign
Each side planned their missions for the first turn. The Germans were required to conduct a bombardment or minelaying mission, with the option to do both. So, they decided to repeat the bombardment and minelaying raid in the Yarmouth/Lowestoft area. This mission would use the battlecruiser squadron for bombardment and the associated light cruiser squadron to lay mines. Additionally, the German battleship squadron would back-up the mission by patrolling the region southeast of Dogger Bank (zone C3 on the operational map). This would put them into a good position to catch any British forces that were pursuing the raiders as they returned to port.

The British were only required to conduct a defensive patrol. But decided to follow the best traditions of the Royal Navy and go on the attack. They planned their own minelaying mission off the German coast (zone C4 on the operational map). The mission would be supported by the seven battleships of the 1st Battle Squadron and the armored cruisers of the 3rd Cruiser Squadron. The battlecruiser squadron was let behind to try to intercept any German raids.

With the missions planned, it was time for the referee (me) to check for submarines, radio intercepts, and spotting by airships.

Royal Navy Intelligence in Room 40 intercepted and decoded many radio transmissions that indicated the Germans had a major fleet operation underway with many ships moving toward Yarmouth. The Royal Navy decided to continue with their planned operations, believing they could lay their mines and then the battleships would be able to cut-off the German raiders as they tried to return to port. They were feeling confident about their chances of inflicting some serious losses on the Germans.

Meanwhile, one of the Zeppelins scouting around Scapa Flow spotted the British battleships leaving port and reported that the ships were heading southeast. The Germans also decided to continue with their planned missions, but they also sent a few more ships to join the battleships in zone C3.

With the stage set, the action kicked off when Harwich Force (4 light cruisers and 2 destroyer squadrons) sighted the German battlecruisers near Yarmouth. The Royal Navy staff discussed their options and ordered Harwich Force to fall back while Beatty’s battlecruisers were dispatched to catch the German raiders. The Germans were happy to let the British light cruisers and destroyers go away while they laid their mines and shot up the town.

Next the British lights cruisers scouting ahead of the minelaying/battleship force sighted smoke and then German battleships. The British minelaying cruisers dumped then mines as the whole force cleared for action.
Each side setting up for the battle
German battleships near the top, cruisers near the bottom, and torpedo boats outside the photo
British battleships near the bottom and cruisers near the top
The battleships for each side were set up on opposite map corners, with their lighter forces directly facing the enemy battleships. The Germans kept their battleships in separate groups, while their armored cruisers. light cruisers, and destroyers looked to close with the British. The British got their battleships into a line ahead formation, leaving four armored cruisers and four light cruisers, operating in two line-ahead formations, to cover the rear of the formation. This left two light cruisers (HMS Blanche and HMS Boadicea) as a screen in front of the formation.
British battleships form up in line ahead formation
As the ships closed the shooting began. Each side took some damage, but nothing serious. Then the German battleships connected on the armored cruisers leading the rear formations. HMS Devonshire was wrecked by a German broadside, while HMS Antrim caught fire and would later sink.
Devonshire hit and sinking
Antrim on fire
At the front of the British formation, HMS Blanche and HMS Boadicea found themselves facing four German light cruisers and four torpedo boat flotillas. The light cruisers did their best, but there were too many Germans around and they were taking heavy damage. The commander of the torpedo boat flotillas saw and opportunity here and made a charge around the British cruisers to close with the battleships. It was about this time that a sailor on a Grand Fleet battleship was heard to say “Does anyone know why we don’t have any destroyers with us?”
German torpedo boats bracket the battleships
Having closed to optimal torpedo range, the German torpedo boats unleashed their fish with deadly results. The two leading battleships, HMS King George V and HMS Ajax, each took multiple hits and began to sink.
HMS Ajax hit by torpedoes
HMS King George V and HMS Ajax sinking after torpedo hits
Flashing back to Royal Navy planning for the turn, a decision had been made to leave the assigned destroyer squadrons behind to conduct a defensive patrol. The question of why the destroyers were left behind would be asked several more times, with the response being “I guess that is what the Board of Inquiry will be tasked with finding out.”

The British did strike back, starting a fire aboard the armored cruiser Prinz Heinrich and then sinking it with a torpedo shot.
Prinz Heinrich hit and on fire
Prinz Heinrich takes a torpedo hit (which will help put out the fire)
With two of their seven battleships sinking, the British ordered a withdrawal. When the casualties were all counted up, the Royal Navy had lost 2 battleships, 2 armored cruisers, and two light cruisers. The Germans lost an armored cruiser and a torpedo boat flotilla. Each side had other ships with damage, but only one of those (another British armored cruiser) was very serious.

The British also recalled their battlecruisers, since it was felt that they would probably be facing both the German battlecruiser and battleship formations.

With the situation looking grim, the British checked the current Victory Point totals. Seeing how far behind they were, they decided to concede the game. This ended the campaign a little earlier than expected, but gave us time to convene the Board of Inquiry to talk through the good and bad things each side had done (the general verdict for the Royal Navy was "mistakes were made."). It also gave me a chance to reveal some of the other interesting missions that were required for later months, such as supporting the Cuxhaven Raid and a mission that could have set up a repeat of the Battle of Dogger Bank.
DANG 2019 participants
Overall, the game turned out well and everyone seemed to have a good time (although I’m sure the food and beer helped with that). I really liked how the new game mats looked and I think the Battleship Captain rules worked pretty well for the mid-size action. They were sort of a throw-back to the old Avalon Hill Jutland rules, with some nice additional chrome. With that, DANG XVIII (18) is in the books.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Ships for DANG 2019

DANG 2019 is less than a week away. I finished up my ship painting last week and have the ships mounted. All that is left is adding some labels so everyone can tell which ship is which without a course in WW1 ship recognition.

I took some photos, but the lighting and my camera did not want to cooperate with each other, so they turn out very good. I've posted them below, but I hope to get some better photos before and during the game.
The battlecruisers Tiger (left) and Derfflinger (right)
For a quick recap, DANG 2019 will cover naval operations in the North Sea from November 1914 through January 1915. Basically from the start of German raids on the British coast through the Battle of Dogger Bank. I could have done up the whole Grand Fleet and High Seas Fleet for the game, but I went with a more limited (and historical) view of using the battlecruiser squadrons for both sides, one battleship squadron, and some odds and ends with armored/light cruisers and destroyers. The ship models are all 1/2400 scale from Panzerschiffe.

I painted the German ships with light gray for the hull and superstructures; except for the destroyers, which were dark gray. The larger ships got light wood color for the decks, while the light cruisers and destroyers decks were painted brown for the tiling.
German battlecruisers (with Blucher tagging along at the end of the line)
For the German battleships, I went with the Helgoland and Nassau class, seen below with a light cruiser in the lead. You can see the different deck color for the cruiser.
German battleships
I also included some German armored cruisers, but the photo wasn't very good.
Out of focus German armored cruisers led by a light cruiser
For the Royal Navy I went with dark gray for the hull and superstructures (maybe too dark) while the destroyers were black. Similar to the Germans, the larger ships got light wood color for the decks, while the light cruisers and destroyers decks were painted brown for the tiling.
British battlecruisers (obviously being observed from a Zeppelin)
The Royal Navy battleships are the Orion and King George V class, also pictured with a light cruiser to show the different deck colors.
British battleships
The Royal Navy also gets a armored cruiser squadron.
Devonshire class ACs of the 3rd Cruiser Squadron
Along with light cruisers and destroyers
A Royal Navy destroyer flotilla
As usual, I've come up with my own basic set of operational rules for assigning missions, setting up battles, and repairing ships. For the tactical rules, I decided to go outside the usual rules and use Minden Games Battleship Captain. Minden has a lot of naval games, along with some other interesting looking games.

The Battleship Captain rules are sort of a throwback to the old Avalon Hill Jutland game, but with lots of optional rules and covering the pre-dreadnought era through World War II (but no aircraft). The rules are pretty easy and they should be able to handle a good number of ships without bogging down. The optional and advanced rules add some flavor to the basic game, which should keeps things interesting and provide a period feel. 

I'll see how everyone else feels about the rules on Saturday. Photos and an after-action report to follow soon.